Bengal’s Maoist heartland votes in huge numbers (Fourth Lead)

May 10th, 2011 - 4:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Kolkata, May 10 (IANS) Defying a Maoist boycott and braving the scorching sun, nearly 72 percent of the over 26 lakh electorate voted peacefully till Tuesday afternoon in the sixth and final phase of the West Bengal assembly elections.

Voters lined up in long queues in front of booths from 7 a.m when the polling started. By 1 p.m., nearly 72 percent of votes were cast, according to officials.

Polling is being held amid tight security in 14 constituencies of three districts - seven in West Midnapore, four in Purulia and three in Bankura - considered a hotbed of Maoist activities.

Helicopters were deployed for aerial surveillance and over 100,000 security personnel, comprising central paramilitary troopers, crack units of the state police and commandos were also on duty.

“Till 1 pm, the polling percentage is 71.94 percent. Polling in West Midnapore was 70.55 percent, Purulia 65.77 and Bankura 70.56,” Additional Chief Electoral Officer N.K. Sahana told IANS.

Polling ends at 3 p.m., two hours earlier than the previous rounds, to enable officials to leave the area before daylight fades.

Ten electronic voting machines were replaced.

Sahana added: “The voting so far has been peaceful. A blast was heard near a forest in Gopiballavpur, but it turned out to be part of the training of Air Force personnel in Kalaikunda air base in the district.”

In West Midnapore 13 people were arrested for creating nuisance in polling booth premises, said Additional Superintendent of Police (Headquarters) Sukesh Jain.

In Jhargram, five preventive arrests were made, according to Additional Police Superintendent (Operation) Mukesh Kumar.

Polling in the area poses the biggest challenge for the security forces and the election authorities.

Places like Salboni, Jhargram, Nayagram, Binpur, Joypur and Bandwan have witnessed shootings and killings related to rebel violence during the past two years.

The area resembles a battlefield with Kalashnikov wielding security forces positioned in large number of bunkers and on the roofs of polling booths.

Anti-landmine vehicles were also also on the roads.

“We have identified 1,049 hamlets as vulnerable to threats of which 470 are in West Midnapore, 563 in Bankura and 16 in Purulia. Both civil officials and security personnel are keeping a close watch on the residents of these hamlets,” said state Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Gupta.

Voting has already been conducted in 280 seats of the 294-member assembly.

Among the 97 candidates in the fray are Minister for Western Region Development Sushanta Ghosh (from Garbeta in West Midnapore), Law and Justice Minister Rabilal Moitra (Gopiballavpur, West Midnapore) and Minister of State for Backward Class Welfare Debolina Hembram (Ranibandh, Bankura).

Chhatradhar Mahato, jailed convener of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), a pro-Maoist tribal outfit, is contesting from Jhargram constituency in West Midnapore district as an independent candidate.

The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) has, however, given a call for boycotting the vote across the state.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) is contesting 11 seats, the Communist Party of India (CPI) in one, the Forward Bloc in two, the Trinamool Congress in nine, the Congress in four and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in all the 14 constituencies.

The counting of votes will take place May 13.

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